Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insisted Monday that controversial striker Mario Balotelli does have a future at Anfield.
Speculation over the Italy forward’s career on Merseyside intensified after he was left out of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round tie against Bolton Wanderers on form grounds, although the forwards selected in his place failed to find the back of the net in a goalless draw with the second division club.
Since making a Â£16 million ($24 million, 21 million euros) move from AC Milan in August, Balotelli has managed just two goals in 18 appearances in all competitions for the Reds.
However, Rodgers said after the Bolton match he expected Balotelli to fight for a first-team place, having previously ruled out selling him during the January transfer window.
And the Reds boss, speaking ahead of Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg clash away to Chelsea, said Monday: “We will give Mario every chance. We brought him in here for this season to give him every chance to show consistently that he can play at a team consistently at the top level.
“It has been a difficult period for him — no doubt — but he is a good boy who does want to fight for his opportunity and chance here,” the Northern Irish manager added.
“I have seen some (press) clippings this morning (saying) that that is him over with — but that’s not the case at all,” Rodgers stressed.
“I think (we) have shown here a number of times with players that have been out of the fold, for various reasons, that if they work hard in training, show the intensity and show the focus then they have every chance of getting back in the team — and not only getting back in it but staying in it.
“The opportunity is there for Mario, and for every player – not just him.”
– Sturridge boost –
If selected for Tuesday’s match, Balotelli could find himself up front with fit-again forward Daniel Sturridge.
The England striker has endured months of injury frustration, having been sidelined since August, but is now back in full training and may feature against former club Chelsea in a match where the teams will kick-off with the tie all square at 1-1.
“He had his training session with the team yesterday (Sunday), he trained very well. That was as comfortable as he has looked,” Rodgers said of Sturridge.
“I thought he looked back to normal. We will see how he feels today, but if he is not ready for tomorrow (Tuesday) we won’t risk it.
“He has been out a long time and we need to make sure that he is ready and feels ready.”
Meanwhile Rodgers dismissed talk of a move for Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, who kept the Reds at bay with a series of fine saves on Saturday, and downplayed talk of any transfer window moves ahead of Monday’s deadline.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it will end up being fairly quiet for us. Unless something dramatic happens we will be as we are.”